John Murray Spear

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John Murray Spear (September 16, 1804 – October 5, 1887)[1] was an American Spiritualist clergyman who is most notable for his attempts to construct an electrically powered Messiah which he referred to as the "New Motive Power".

Early life[edit]

Spear was born in the city of Boston in 1804, and was from a young age a member of the Universalist Church of America. The pastor of this church was Hosea Ballou, under whom John Murray and his brother, Charles, studied theology. In 1830, Spear was ordained and became minister of the Barnstable congregation. He later became a close colleague of Theodore Parker and William Lloyd Garrison.[2] In the 1840s, Spear was active in petitioning for social reform including women's rights, labor reform and the removal of the death penalty.[2] Also a prominent abolitionist, Spear organized the first Universalist anti-slavery convention and helped to oversee the stretch of the Underground Railroad which ran through Boston.

Constructing the New Motive Power[edit]

In 1852, Spear broke all ties with the Universalist church, and instead turned to Spiritualism. He claimed that he was in contact with "The Association of Electrizers", a group of spirits including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, and Benjamin Rush, as well as Spear's namesake John Murray. Evidence indicates he occasionally faked signatures as a way to gain authority from a "guide from the past;" however, these signatures were dated beyond the lifetimes of the deceased.[3] Spear believed that the purpose of this group was to bring new technology to mankind, so that greater levels of personal and spiritual freedom could be achieved.[1] The following year, Spear and a handful of followers retreated to a wooden shed at the top of High Rock Hill in Lynn, Massachusetts, where they set to work creating the "New Motive Power", a mechanical Messiah which was intended to herald a new era of Utopia. The New Motive Power was constructed of copper, zinc and magnets, all carefully machined, as well as a dining room table. At the end of nine months, Spear and the "New Mary", an unnamed woman, ritualistically birthed the contraption in an attempt to give it life.[citation needed] Unfortunately for Spear, this failed to have the desired effect, and the machine was later dismantled. Although purportedly found in an attic in 2019, most agree the dismantling subsequently occured after a mob ceased it.

Later life and death[edit]

Spiritualism influenced Spear throughout most of his life. His business card notes, "Guided and assisted by beneficent Spirit-Intelligences, Mr. S. will examine and prescribe for disease of body and mind, will delineate the character of persons when present, or by letter, and indicate their future as impressions are given him; will sketch the special capacities of young persons... Applications to lecture, or hold conversations on Spiritualism, will be welcomed."[4]

In 1872, Spear claimed to have received a message from the Association of Electrizers urging him to retire from the ministry. He died in October 1887, in the city of Philadelphia, and was buried in the Mount Moriah Cemetery.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "John Murray Spear". Archived from the original on 2011-06-23. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
  2. ^ a b The Remarkable Life of John Murray Spear: Agitator for the Spirit Land, by John Benedict Buescher, University of Notre Dame Press, 2006, ISBN 0-268-02200-3
  3. ^ Salisbury, Ruth. "Thaddeus Sheldon Papers Finding Aid". Archive Service Center, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  4. ^ Spear, John, M. "J. M. Spear Business Card, ca. 1864" (PDF). Archive Service Center, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 20 May 2013.

External links[edit]